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Pearl Narang

Pearl Narang is a final year law student of B.B.A.LL.B (Hons.) at Chandigarh University, Mohali and is currently interning as a Trainee in Business World Legal Community. She is also pursuing a diploma in Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution. She is passionate about both law and writing.

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Emotions in Copyright

A copyright infringement suit filed against Netflix for upcoming film Enola Holmes.

Never trust general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details. 

-      Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conon Doyle's estate has filed a copyright infringement suit against Netflix for the upcoming film Enola Holmes, based on a series of novels by Nancy Springer. 

The movie 

The movie's main focus is the famous detective’s sister, Enola Holmes. The movie does also feature Sherlock Holmes. The Doyle estate bases their copyright infringement claim on the emotional character differences of Sherlock Holmes between the pre- and post-1923 works.

The estate alleged that the film’s depiction of the character Sherlock Holmes, in the public domain, having emotions and respecting women violates the estate's copyright. 

A number of court rulings have held that certain characteristics of Sherlock Holmes' personality are not under copyright protection

However, details from 10 stories are still owned by the estate. The estate has argued that Springer’s book and Netflix’s adaptation draws key elements from those stories which are under copyright protection.

Pre-1923 

The Doyle Estate has been familiar with copyright litigation for a while. In 2014, the Estate lost copyright in all of the stories that were authored before 1923. 

As per law, before 1978, copyrights lasted for 95 years from the date of publication. As such, the court adjudicated that the works had fallen into the public domain and were free to use. In these works, Sherlock Holmes was portrayed as an aloof man and someone who lacks empathy. They assert that these qualities are crucial aspects of his character that are currently in the public domain.

Post-1923 Works

In the current case, the complaint alleged that the movie portrays Holmes as a sensitive character having emotions and feelings. The Estate alleged that the last 10 original stories portray Holmes as being warm and caring. These stories were authored by Doyle between 1923 and 1927. These stories are still under copyright. The complaint states, “while Sherlock Holmes is famous for his great powers of observation and logic, he is almost as famous for being aloof and unemotional.”  These qualities of him being 'aloof and unemotional' are part of public domain while in contrast, the movie depicts an emotional Holmes which is only depicted in the works that are still covered by copyright. 

Conclusion

The question before the court is, can a copyright protect the development of emotions in a character? Is the emotional depiction of Sherlock Holmes in the movie comes under the ambit of derivative works? It will likely be very tough for the Estate to prove copyright infringement based on such detail like the development of emotions in a character. It will be interesting to see how this case or rather detail plays out in court and what precedent it sets. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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